Allen Gardiner: A Heart for Missions


Allen Francis Gardiner was born in England on June 28, 1794, the son of a Berkshire squire and a God fearing mother, who while not trying to reign in her son’s risky attitude about life, made sure he had a healthy knowledge of the Scriptures. From the beginning he displayed an adventuresome spirit while his heroes were men of courage who believed in doing right. His one desire was to be a sailor in the British Navy and impressed adults and his peer group by always wanting to tackle the most difficult tasks. One night when his mother was making her final bed check, she found Allen, the youngest of five brothers, on the floor. When she inquired about his motivation, he said that when he became a man, he’d be expected to experience discomfort so he wanted to start now. Allen had four older brothers sleeping soundly in their beds, but his mother didn’t disturb this youngest son whom she already saw as someone special.
Allen entered the Naval College in Portsmouth on the 13th of February, 1808, when he was fourteen and remained there for two years where he became a favorite of Dockyard Commissioner, Sir George Grey. His wife, Lady Grey, became like a second mother to the teenage boy with the charismatic personality. Lady Grey maintained contact with Allen, and her letters and advice were of great use to him.
He first went to sea in 1810 as a volunteer on the Fortune, with a Captain Vansittart and then transferred to the Phoebe, with Captain Hillyar in March of the following year. He served on the Phoebe as a midshipman until August, 1814, where he saw his first combat when the Phoebe captured the American ship, Essex, off Valparaiso, during the War of 1812. Gardiner distinguished himself during the battle and was made acting Lieutenant during the return trip to England with the prize of war.
Gardiner continued to impress his superiors and come 1815, we find him serving as a lieutenant on the Ganymede. In 1819 he was assigned to the Leander, carrying the flag of Rear-Admiral Sir Henry Blackwood and sailing to the Cape of Good Hope and later to Trincomalee. In 1820, Gardiner joined the crew of the Dauntless, whose captain was The Honor-able Valentyn Gardner and sailed to such ports as Madras (India), Penang (Malaysia), Singapore, Manilla and Macao (China). It was during these times that Gard-iner turned against his Christian religion and began a flirtation with Buddhism. He became so anti-Christianity that if he saw people reading the Bible or discussing Christianity he’d feel compelled to ask them why they were engaging in such senseless conduct. Just what brought him back to the faith of his youth cannot be certain. Some think the death of his mother was the catalyst. At any rate, he decided he should start reading the Bible again, then realized he didn’t have one. He went to a bookstore but was too embarrassed to go in. He waited until no other customers were in the store then went in and bought a Bible.
Just when he received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is not certain. There’s some evidence that it was his second stop in China when he realized the futility of Buddhism. There was also a time in Tahiti when he attended a chapel service conducted by a missionary named Wilson who treated Gardiner and his fellow crewmen from the Dauntless with great respect. At the end of the service they stayed to watch the catechizing of ninety native children.
While some refer to Gardiner as a missionary, he never saw himself as one. Rather, he was a pioneer for missionaries, a man who cleared the way for those who were ordained. To Gardiner’s way of thinking, if his efforts could lead others in the spreading of God’s Word, he had done his part in the work of the Great Commission.
1820 marks his first year in God’s service, while 1821 marks the year of his marriage to Julia Susanna Reade (some records list the year of marriage as 1823). The couple had five children, four daughters and a son, Allen Jr. Gardiner remained in the Navy until 1826, attaining the rank of commander before he was discharged for physical reasons. He would try several times to regain his commission but was never able to do so.
There is very little recorded about Gardiner until 1834, when his wife died of consumption (tuberculosis), leaving him a widower with five children. One of his daughters died soon after. His words after the deaths of two people he loved mark Gardiner as a man of great compassion, but also a man determined to continue God’s work. “Within the last twelve months, the Lord in his wisdom has seen fit to take from me, a beloved child and a tender and affectionate wife. My earthly comforts have been re-moved and I pass my days in sorrow. Blessed be God!” After such a great loss, Gardiner set out to be an even more dedicated missionary pioneer.
By 1838, Allen Gardiner still had not made the progress he wanted in bringing evangelical Christianity to South America or any other locality he’d visited during his navy career. He’d remarried in October of 1836 and for the most part where he went, his family did also. When it came to places deemed too dangerous, he’d find lodging as close to where he’d be as possible, but in Gardiner’s mind, there weren’t many of those.
Some would say that Gardiner met with little success because of the challenges he took on—challenges many others would not have touched—the Zulus of South Africa, for example.
Nick Hazlewood, in his book, The Life and Times of Jemmy Button, says that many considered Gardiner mad for getting himself into some of the difficult situations he found himself in, not to mention his family; while others thought his children were getting a quite remarkable education. How-ever, Gardiner was heartsick when his eldest daughter died while still off the coast of South Africa and he was forced to bury her in this foreign land. Yet, even though his heart was broken, he persevered and soon after landing he started a school for a small group of children of English colonists as well as Zulu children. To demonstrate his multiple skills, he laid out a basic plan for a city that would one day become the thriving city of Durban. But Gardiner was about spreading the Gospel, which meant he had to gain the trust of one man—something Gardiner thought he’d done … until things went wrong.
The Zulu king, Dingaan, at first rebuffed Gardiner’s request to establish a mission station, but then was told by Gardiner that he could broker a peace between white traders and the Zulu. Gardiner didn’t know that as part of the agreement he would be required to repatriate seven Zulu citizens, including three children who’d been with the whites and didn’t want to come home. They came home to their deaths, and Gardiner was so horrified he promptly left Zulu land, no doubt fearing for his own family. Gardiner couldn’t be blamed for the deaths, but knowing he’d been manipulated by the Zulu king must have been unnerving. There were other places such as New Guinea, Chile, and Gran Chaco, where Gardiner, in his zeal to serve God, got involved in difficult situations.
Next stop was South America, where bent but unbowed and with his entire family in tow he declared, “I’m thankful for having been permitted to engage in any work that might contribute to the extension of the Redeemer’s kingdom on earth.”
Gardiner, his wife and children arrived in Rio de Janeiro in June of 1838 and began what is described as one of the great missionary sagas, a mule train across the entire continent of South America, including the Andes. Gardiner was searching for some aboriginal Indians he remembered from his Royal Navy days.
Stopping only for the Sabbath, he and his family reached Santiago and Concepción where Gardiner left his family and continued on with a native guide. His narrative entitled, “A visit to the Indians on the frontiers of Chile,” turned out to be just that. Gardiner would find that wherever a military fort had been erected there would be a mission station, this one operated by Friars. Gardiner was not wanted. He recognized the situation and rejoined his family at Concepción. The next stop would be New Guinea by way of Sydney, Australia, thousands of miles away. If Gardiner’s wife ever objected to all of their traveling, it’s not recorded.
Dutch government officials were the next opposition to overcome, which meant Gardiner could not reach Papua, his intended goal. “You might as well try to instruct the monkeys as the natives of Papua,” said the Dutch. “They are men!” snapped Gardiner. He decided to take his family to Valparaiso since he’d always had the desire to evangelize the South American Indians, despite the opposition of clergy of the Roman faith. When Gardiner got to San Carlos he found that negative gossip had preceded him and he was characterized as a heretic bishop.
This meant he’d have to spend his time in San Carlos distributing Bibles and religious books, since he could not get to the Indians. While at San Carlos, a Friar named Manuel, who had used his influence to keep Gardiner from the Indians, approached as if to make amends. In a friendly tone Manuel said, “Let us be friends, man! You wanted a Chiliduga dictionary; here is one.” The book was a very rare one and Gardiner was very grateful.
Gardiner had come to realize that many avenues were blocked by the Roman Catholic Church. He looked to Patagonia and settled in the nearby Falkland Islands, making contact with a Patagonian chief, thinking he’d established a relationship but was probably looking at things through rose colored glasses. He stayed at the Falklands for about a year and then returned to England with his family, hoping to gain support from some of the established missions. There was no interest. It was the time of Charles Darwin and while he was certainly not a Christian, apparently had some influence with churchmen when he declared that the Patagonian Indians were a lost cause. Of course Allen Gardiner believed no one was a lost cause so he established his own mission: The Patagonian Missionary Society (later, the South American Missionary Society), even though he had no money.
In 1844, Gardiner, with a young man named Robert Hunt—who perhaps had zeal equal to Gardiner—returned to Patagonia. They were less than welcomed. Apparently, any goodwill Gardiner thought he’d earned the first time was no longer there. They were rescued by a British ship and returned to England with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
In 1845, Gardiner was back, this time in an area of South America known as the Gran Chaco, (Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia) accompanied by a young evangelist named Gonzalez. Gardiner felt they could reach the Patagonians from this area, but the overthrow of a government sent them back to England. Everyone involved with the society wanted to forget South America—but not Gardiner.
Tierra del Fuego was the next stop and Gardiner and five companions landed there, established a beachhead, built huts and pitched a tent. They were robbed again, treated harshly, and escaped on a passing ship.
From these experiences, Gardiner knew the best and safest way to accomplish his aim was to operate a floating mission station from a ship off shore; but he couldn’t get the funds to purchase a ship. In September 1850, Gard-iner and six other men left Liverpool on the Ocean Queen. The six men were pretty much strangers to each other though Gardiner had chosen well as far as their skill levels. He had a surgeon, three fishermen, a carpenter and a servant. What he did not have was his own ship and after the Ocean Queen dropped his party off at a place called Banner Cove, along with two very small launches called the Pioneer and the Speed-well, the six men watched the Ocean Queen sail away with most of their weapons and powder which they’d forgotten to unload. Their plan to hunt game for a great part of their food supply turned out to be no plan at all.
A major part of Gardiner’s plan during his trip to Tierra del Fuego was to make contact with a Fuegian Indian named Jemmy Button, (Fuegian name “Orundell-ico”), a name given to Jemmy by English boat commander Robert Fitzroy, when he took the young boy to England with him for fourteen months. Jemmy was one of four Fuegians who made the trip. The plan was to teach them the English language along with the rudiments of Christianity, then return them to their homeland in hopes they would be an avenue to their fellow Fuegians for Christian missionaries. It was as-sumed that teaching Jemmy the English language and dressing him in English clothing would make him more English than Fuegian. This, of course, did not happen and by the time Gardiner got to Jemmy’s island, twenty years had passed. There was no Jemmy still wearing his English clothing along with his big smile, running to meet Gardiner and his crew. In fact there was no Jemmy at all. The naive English did not factor in the possibility that Jemmy might prefer his previous life. The only Fuegians who ran to meet them began robbing them blind. Even if Gardner and his men could’ve defended themselves they wouldn’t. They’d come to evangelize, not kill. We have to wonder if Gardiner had suddenly wished he had a ship to retreat to.
Their only hope for survival now was the Falklands from which they’d arranged a shipment of supplies in about four months—now too long. Another ship from England was supposed to check on them in about six months. When the ship came it found the bodies of seven men who’d slowly starved to death.
The surgeon Dr. Williams and Gardiner left messages and told a story of seven men, totally dedicated to each other, who did not panic and died the way Christian men should. Nick Hazelwood seemed to think that Gardiner’s behavior over the years led him into madness. The reaction to the death of Gardiner and his companions suggests his countrymen felt otherwise. Within two years, the schooner Allen Gardiner was built and sailed to Patagonia to serve as a missionary ship.